Although the kaffir lime trees are originally from tropical southeast Asia, they can be easily grown in other areas. You can have kaffir lime all year round by shifting it a little in the colder seasons. Skip growing kaffir lime outdoors and grow it indoors instead.
Citrus plants are large in their native habitats but can maintain a small size easily in the right conditions. Your trees could live in a greenhouse, on a patio, or inside your home. Watch out for the thorns, though!
What would you like to grow in a pot or as a tropical plant in the Southern United States?
All About Kaffir Limes
The kaffir lime, also known as the makrut lime, is a citrus fruit that originated in Southeast Asia. The word “kaffir” has been attributed to a racial slur referring to non-Muslim Swahilian Africans who were stolen from their lands during the Indian Ocean slave trade. The Kaffirs were an ethnic group in Sri Lanka who had Bantu origins.
Pruning this plant will keep it a manageable size for a large planter, as it can take up to three years for it to fruit. That’s not easy to do because the thorns are up to 1.5 inches long. It is possible to remove some of the thorniness from future makrut growth by grafting less thorny citrus onto the tree. However, doing so would result in a tree that produces a mixture of fruits. Makrut branches are often grafted onto other citrus rootstocks.
Kaffir Lime vs Makrut Lime vs Thai Lime – Same or Different?
Let’s start with the name, which comes with controversy…
First, the plant’s scientific name is Citrus hystrix. The scientific name for the hystrix porcupine is due to the fact that these animals are indeed thorny, although not nearly as thorny as other porcupines.
However, like many popular plants, Citrus hystrix also carries multiple common names, including:
- makrut lime,
- Mauritius papeda,
- Thai lime, and
- kaffir lime.
Growing Makrut Limes
Makrut limes will not survive in zones below 9. Therefore, if you live in a zone below 9, do not plant them in the ground. Although some sources state that makrut lime trees can endure a light freeze, we would not take the chance.
Can you grow makrut lime trees in a pot?
Makrut lime trees can be grown in a pot, but dwarf or semi-dwarf trees are best. If you live in a colder climate region, you can only grow makrut limes in a pot or in a heated or solar passive greenhouse.
Are makrut lime trees self-fertile, e.g. self-pollinating?
Yes, makrut lime trees are self-fertile. You only need one makrut lime tree to get fruit.
If you’re growing a makrut lime tree indoors, or in a place where pollinators can’t get to the flowers, you’ll need to use a q-tip or a small paintbrush to pollinate the flowers by hand.
How big are makrut lime trees?
The average height of a standard makrut lime tree that is grown in-ground is 25 feet, with a width of 12 inches. Smaller cultivars grown in pots can be kept pruned to 3-5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
What are the basic needs and growing conditions for kaffir lime trees? If you grow kaffir lime leaves, you will have a delicious harvest of them throughout the year.
Sun and Temperature
Makrut trees are tropical and need full sun. In other words, your plant needs at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. Kaffir lime leaves produce in high temperatures easily. Triple-digit heat is no problem at all. Be sure to protect your tree when the weather gets cold. Move the plant inside, or put a frost cloth over the fragrant leaves. If it experiences a hard freeze it may die. If the temperature is below 50 degrees, it will prevent flowers and fruits from growing.
Water and Humidity
These plants love high heat and humidity. Water your tree a couple of times a week at the base of the trunk if you have dry heat in your region and your tree is outdoors. Do so in the morning, and avoid wetting foliage. You should water your plants about an inch per week, depending on the humidity. You should not water the soil around the tree too often because it will become waterlogged. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are the best method for watering, but any other gentle method works. Do not water the plants if it has been raining a lot. Water your plant a few times a week during the fruiting phase to help the fruit form and get bigger.
The tree should be in an area with average to fertile soil and sandy conditions to promote good drainage. To create the perfect mixture for your garden, fill a pot or hole in the ground with a combination of average garden soil, sand, and well-rotted compost. Makrut can survive in poor soil, but in order for it to thrive, it needs good drainage in the pot or hole where you place it. A pH of 6 to 6.5 is best.
Fertilize makrut after the first year of growth with slow-release citrus fertilizer 2 to 3 times per year. A few tablespoons are enough, even in mature trees. You should apply this product at the beginning of spring, the beginning of summer, and the end of summer. Wait to fertilize until after the winter to avoid shocking the tree. The NPK of the fertilizer should be 2-1-1. Water it in well.
You should wear thick, strong gloves when pruning this tree as it is very thorny and will stab you easily. Use loppers. Pruning should always be done at the node of each branch, unless the branch is being removed due to disease. If the branches are displaying a weeping posture, cut them back by a few inches. Cutting back on your tree’s branches will help keep it small.
The small buds and suckers that were pruned off the tree can be rooted in a starter pot. To help the stems get started, use a propagation dome and rooting powder or gel. Cut the end of the stem cleanly and remove the lower leaves. To root plants, first dip the tips of the plants in rooting media, then place them in rapid rooters. Spread the cuttings out in the tray so they are not touching each other. Spray the plants with water and place the dome over the top of the tray. Place them in an area with low light. Keep the area at about room temperature. The rooting process for cuttings can take anywhere from 6 days to 6 weeks.
Harvesting this tree, even though it causes pain, is very rewarding. You can add astringency to your dishes all year round by using aromatic leaves, fruit, or juice.
Pests and Diseases
Citrus trees that are grown outdoors and are healthy don’t usually have a lot of pests or diseases. Exception: areas where citrus greening is present. Greening is a deadly disease with no cure. The Asian citrus psyllid is a tiny insect that spreads the citrus greening bacterium.
If you’re growing citrus in pots in moderate climate zones, you won’t have to worry about pests bothering your plants too much while they’re outdoors. We don’t usually intervene when leaf miners pests attack our citrus trees because they don’t cause enough damage.
Citrus trees that are grown indoors for long periods of time are more likely to have infestations of bugs since they are not exposed to the high humidity or predators like lacewings, wasps, and ladybugs.
Some common indoor pests that can infest citrus trees are aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, and scales. To help prevent this, take your citrus tree outdoors once per month and give it a foliar spray with neem oil or a similar organic/OMRI listed pesticide.
When the kaffir lime tree is mature, pick the leaves in spring when they are fresh. After the flowers on a fruit tree die, it will take 6 to 9 months for the fruit to grow. Pick a lime off the tree and cut it in half to see if it is ripe. If there is enough juice, the other limes should be done. Pick the fruit when it is green, not when it is yellow. The yellow fruits are not suitable to be used in dishes because they are too bitter, although the zest is often added to food as a seasoning. In tropical areas, harvest the fruits year-round. In areas that are not in the hardiness zones, the harvest happens during late summer.
If you want your limes to last for 2 to 4 weeks, store them on the countertop with good air circulation. You can store them in the fridge for 1-2 months. If you cut a lime, you should eat it right away or within 24 hours. Lime juice can last for 6 months in the fridge when it is sealed properly. Although freezing the lime will ruin its texture, freezing only the juice is perfectly alright. The same goes for other citrus fruits, like lemons. To dehydrate lime, allow it to dry completely. This will keep it fresh for up to five years when stored in a plastic tub or glass jar. Jars of lime that are properly canned and sealed can last for 9 months. You can freeze lime zest in a whole or sectioned form and store it for up to one year. Add this ingredient to your dish if you want, and enjoy the pleasant smell.
Uses of Makrut Limes
The leaves of makrut limes are most commonly used in cooking, but the flower petals and fruit are edible and have their own unique flavor. Here’s how to use the edible parts of a makrut lime tree:
1. Makrut Lime Leaves
The taste of Makrut lime leaves is very unique, with bright notes of lime and other citrus fruits. The leaves are used as a flavoring in many Southeast Asian cuisines, somewhat akin to the way bay leaves are used in America.
To bring out the most flavor, the leaves can be crushed by hand or chopped before adding them to a dish. The leaves are not meant to be eaten, they just add flavor to the dish. The leaves can either be removed before serving the food, or moved aside during a meal.
Here’s how you can use makrut lime leaves:
- Savory – A great way to use makrut lime leaves on the savory side of things is Thai tom kha gai soup , which we make any time we have a nice haul of maitake mushrooms.
- You can also add makrut lime leaves to a pot of cooking rice to infuse it with unique flavor.
- Sweet – On the sweet/dessert end of the spectrum, try our Makrut lime leaf coconut kuzu pudding recipe (sweetened with honey).
- Drinks – You can chop and use makrut lime leaves to make a flavorful tea. They can also easily be made into a simple syrup with sugar and water, then used to flavor cocktails.
2. Makrut Lime Flower Petals
The white flowers of makrut limes have four to five petals and are highly fragrant. They make an excellent edible flower. You can eat citrus flower petals and make tea out of them, including makrut lime flowers. You can collect fallen flower petals from beneath citrus plants without harming the fruit set.
We have twelve different kinds of citrus fruits that we grow and the petals from the makrut lime flower are our favorite. They have a wonderful soft texture and excellent flavor. They can be used in teas, as well as being a good decoration on both sweet and savory dishes.
When do makrut lime trees flower? In late winter through early spring.
3. Makrut Lime Fruit
The brain-like fruits of makrut limes are intensely flavorful. You can pick them while they are still green, or let them ripen and turn yellow-green before falling off the tree. The color of the skins continues to change to yellow as they ripen after they are picked. Makrut lime fruit ripens in winter. The Makrut lime fruit is small (about 2-3″ in diameter) and has a unique appearance. The fruit has a lot of wrinkles on the skin, making it look like a small green brain.
The skins of makrut limes turn from green to dull green-yellow when they are ripe, and eventually fall off the plant. Each fruit can be juiced, and the leftover skins can be used to add flavor.
Yes, makrut lime fruit tastes different than regular limes. Makrut limes have a much sharper flavor than regular limes. Yes! Makrut limes are stronger and more flavorful than regular limes.
Makrut limes can be used to make limeade or in savory Asian dishes. To use them, juice the limes. Take care not to add too much makrut lime juice or skin to your dish, as a small amount can impart a strong flavor. The juice from makrut limes is much more intense than that of regular limes, but it still tastes good on papaya.
The Makrut lime plant is an amazing addition to any potted citrus orchard! We hope you found this article helpful in regards to growing and using makrut lime trees!